“Yes, I am a King, says Jesus, I was born for this, I came into the world for this …” As we hear Jesus’s words to Pilate, we are struck by the awesomeness of the Truth: that Jesus’s mission to be amongst men, God making Himself one with mankind in all things but sin, places man automatically on a pedestal in God’s sight. As one of the psalms says, “what is man that You should keep him in mind, mortal man that You care for him? … yet You have made him little less than a god!” We need to look more closely at what is man that God cares for him like this.In our journey through the Catechism, and through the Creed, we considered the beauty of creation, the universe in all its manifest diversity. But we touched on the fact that it is not only what we can see that is the whole of creation. The invisible, the spiritual, is the greater, the more perfect, part of creation. That means, the angels — those beings who are spirit and not matter at all — and man who uniquely straddles the boundary between matter and spirit, being both: body and soul. As Genesis describes the creation, humanity is the pinnacle of creation, the crowning moment. For unique to man are the special words of God: “let us make man in our own image — in the image of God, He created him, male and female He created them.” The Catechism explains clearly as it considers this text: “Man occupies a unique place in creation: (i) he is ‘in the image of God’; (ii) in his own nature he unites the spiritual and material worlds; (iii) he is created ‘male and female’; (iv) God established him in his friendship.” This makes man utterly above the animal world: because of his soul, because of his spiritual nature. Man is not just some clever, over-developed monkey. Man is a spiritual and material being, who has a moral life, a spiritual life, an immortal life. Our bodies are related to the rest of material creation, to the stars, earth, plants and animals: our physical selves are built up from the same building blocks, the same carbon, nitrogen, hydrogen oxygen etc. as the rest of the universe; we share in our bodies much of the same DNA as even the simplest animals, let alone sharing 98% with a chimpanzee. But our total nature as human beings we do not share at all with the animals, nor with the angels either. We are not animals, and we are not angels — we are human beings, matter and spirit, body and soul. That we are physically related to the animals does not confer on them the sort of ‘animal rights’ that some would campaign vigorously for. We should respect all of God’s creation, care for it as responsible stewards, not abuse an animal as each one is a lovely part of God’s creation; but at the same time, we are committing no offence if we kill them for food, or harness them without cruelty to help us do our work. We have to take great care to distinguish true human rights from respect for animal creation, or else the two get confused. Have you noticed how modern society is equally likely to propose animal rights, and to at the same time to diminish human rights? — think of how many times you have heard to spurious (and false) argument for euthanasia, that “we wouldn’t even let a dog suffer like that; we would put it down. Maybe so, but then a dog is not a spiritual creature with a immortal soul. We have to understand that whilst the body of man has in all probability evolved over billions of years from lower life forms, our soul has not. Each and every human soul is created by God anew. Each human soul is unique and created at the moment of conception. There is not other biological point at which a human being comes into existence. That is why we respect and defend the life of the unborn child, always, from the very start, from the moment of conception.
What about ‘male and female’? Is this just an evolutionary accident that happened further down the tree of life? No — not at all. This also is directly willed by God. God wrote into the fabric of His creation that at a certain point, plants and animals would start reproducing by sexual means, their male and females distinguished. They are different, but complementary: they are designed to go together, and to take on some different roles that are not interchangeable, such as fatherhood and motherhood. This lies at the root of what we believe is the unchangeable truth about marriage between a man and a woman; and also underpins our clear Catholic teaching about the maleness of the priesthood in representing Christ in specific priestly actions such as the Mass. Jesus is God incarnate, born in the likeness of a man, from a woman, Mary. In fact, we could say that the sexual division of higher life into male and female was intended by God precisely so that God could enter His world: the Son of God taking flesh from a human woman. Man and woman are completely equal in dignity, equally called to the life of holiness, but are not simply interchangeable: that does not respect the nature of humanity as God has created us. Man and woman bring different but equally important gifts to life, and to marriage, and to the Church. Into this unique creature, which God has made, is to be born His only Son: we shall spend Advent thinking about God the Son.